Quietly Strong an Interview with Holly Throsby

Holly Throsby has been likened to female singers such as Nina Nastasia and Cat Power. Her voice is quiet and clear, her songs familiar yet somehow surprising: intimate insights into the musings of another's mind. Her debut album, On Night, was released in late 2004 and met with favourable reviews \"a sound of its own \" Rolling Stone, "a thing of quiet luminescent beauty\", The Courier Mail.


In 2006 the second album – Under the Town was released in the UK – Australian release July 11th. Mojo - \"a spare, Raymond Carver-like intimacy...an irrefutably original voice\", Plan B - \"something quite special\", Uncut - \"poignant lyrical twists with a pinch of dry humour\", among them. Under the Town, was produced by Tony Dupe at his cottage on Saddleback Mountain and mixed by Tim Whitten in Sydney. Holly has a quiet speaking voice and sounds physically small. I was curious to hear her talk about music - having playing with interesting artists and produced two albums with an intimate, acoustic sound and quiet yet intense feeling.


The Dwarf: You observed about On Night that you retrospectively noticed a story in the album. Did you have the same experience with ‘Under the Town'?


Holly Throsby: Yeah I think so, not a story is the sense that there is a beginning and an end. I see what I meant, more than I did when I wrote them, the songs go together, sit together. It's a little part of my life.


TD - Your website notes that there is more orchestration in the new album – how did that shift the sound and feeling of your songs? Did you write the new songs imagining a different feeling?


HT: Yeah there is. Tony used instruments that were lying around and I played the piano which was fun. ‘On Night' was an acoustic, folk album. I was listening to old stuff like Fred Neil – beautiful acoustic guitar music. This album is not a folk record so much. Although there is a folk tradition in the songwriting.


TD: The location of recording – does it have an effect on the sound?


HT: Yeah I think it does, though not so literally this time. We did some amateur sound proofing, a comedy of errors really, blankets over the windows. But the windowpanes are cracked and there are trees hanging over all the windows and insistent birds but it was a conscious decision to have a different set up. Still an ambient sound, a nice sounding room. I think it's warm and close.


TD: There is an intimacy both in the sound and the content of the lyrics in the songs on ‘On Night'. A sense of introspection, quietness, space. You use breathe as a textural sound in your vocals – many reviews of the album talk about vulnerability? Does intimacy necessarily mean that it's vulnerable? Can't intimacy be a quiet strength?


HT: I agree it gets read as fragility but when I listen to music like that I tend to think it takes strength to be so bare. When I recorded the album (‘On Night') I wasn't in a strong place.


TD: It irritates me that people hear fragility in someone like Joanna Newsome's voice when her words are obviously not at all fragile.


HT: Yeah her "childlike nature" I guess I see that as a kind of giddiness but aesthetically her music isn't at all childlike she's very savvy. I played with her and hung out with her for a few days. Her album was one of my favs of last year. I listened to it a whole bunch. She's really young, but very literate. Much more of a studied songwriter than I am but I guess you have to with that kind of instrument! There's an assumption that if music sounds pretty it has no weight but I think there's a huge weight in pretty music, a bleakness in the middle – you don't have to sound like Tom Waits. A reviewer likened me to Nina Nastasia who I'd never heard of so I went out and bought an album and was retrospectively flattered for months. She sounds gorgeous but still dirty.


TD: I was reading some of your lyrics on your website and the way that they are presented made me think of haiku and Emily Dickenson.


HT: I don't know about haiku, I like haiku. But yeah, that's what makes lyric writing difficult, being succinct and matching the sound of the words to the music so that the words sit within the music. I hum along and make a vocal melody and the vowel sounds sort of make the words. It something Tony and I worked with to make the songs relevant to each other. Like a series of mirrors, a tension. Using unexpected sounds or instruments like a cello in a happy song.


TD: Your music talks abut the everyday – the melancholy beauty of the mundane. I think of films like ‘My Life Without Me' and ‘'All The Real Girls'. Writers like Raymond Carver. What inspires you to make?


HT: I don't know about ‘My Life Without Me' but certainly ‘You Can Count On Me'. I used to work in a little art house video store in Sydney, and I love Raymond Carver, I guess small town domestic dramas like the stories of Carson McCullers, not ornate. I like writers that write in vernacular.


TD: What are you reading right now?


HT: 'The Year of Magical Thinking' Joan Didion. I like Joan Didion generally but I saw an Annie Leibovitz photograph of Joan Didion and she just looked so translucent, old and frail like a ghost. The picture made me cry to look at. The book's about processing grieving.


TD: What music are you listening to?


HT: A new Brian Eno record. I really like Eno even though some of his music confuses me. The album is called ‘Before and After Science'. Otis Reading. Girl groups like The Ronnettes and I just discovered the Shangrilas. It's hard to find those Phil Spectre recordings apart from ‘Be My Baby' of course – those girl groups are so great!

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